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Endless War: Obama Secretly Extends US War on Afghanistan November 22, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Roger’s note: who is writing the script for this horror movie, Joseph Goebbels or George Orwell?  Who else could come up with such winners as “Operation Enduring Freedom” which has now morphed, thanks to War-Criminal-in-Chief Obama, into “Operation Resolute Support?”  To describe aggressive warfare and the murder of innocent civilians?  To maintain control over oil pipelines?

Why does that 1960s chant ring in my head: “Hey, Hey, LBJ, How many kids did you kill today?”

 

dead-children

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Obama allowed the military to dictate the terms of the endgame in Afghanistan

 

Last May 27, in an announcement in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama said:

“2014, therefore, is a pivotal year.  Together with our allies and the Afghan government, we have agreed that this is the year we will conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan… America’s combat mission will be over by the end of this year. Starting next year, Afghans will be fully responsible for securing their country.  American personnel will be in an advisory role.  We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys.  That is a task for the Afghan people.”

Never mind.

The president has now quietly authorized an expanded role for the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

The New York Times reported last night that Obama’s decision is the result of “a lengthy and heated debate” between the promise Mr. Obama made to end the war in Afghanistan, versus the demands of the Pentagon.

The Pentagon won. An official told the Times that “the military pretty much got what it wanted.”

Obama has also given the war in Afghanistan a new name: Operation Resolute Support.

Obama’s secret decision will keep American troops on the ground and fighting for at least another year and the US will continue using F-16 fighter jets, Predator and Reaper drones, and B-1 bombers.

The Predators: Where is Your Democracy? May 9, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, War.
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Monday, May 9, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

On May 4, 2011, CNN World News asked whether killing Osama bin Laden was legal under international law. Other news commentary has questioned whether it would have been both possible and advantageous to bring Osama bin Laden to trial rather than kill him.  

World attention has been focused, however briefly, on questions of legality regarding the killing of Osama bin Laden.  But, with the increasing use of Predator drones to kill suspected “high value targets” in Pakistan and Afghanistan, extrajudicial killings by U.S. military forces have become the new norm.

Just three days after Osama bin Laden was killed, an attack employing remote-control aerial drones killed fifteen people in Pakistan and wounded four. CNN reports that their Islamabad bureau has counted four drone strikes over the last month and a half since the March 17 drone attack which killed 44 people in Pakistan’s tribal region. This most recent suspected strike was the 21st this year.  There were 111 strikes in 2010. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that 957 innocent civilians were killed in 2010.

I’m reminded of an encounter I had, in May, 2010 ,when a journalist and a social worker from North Waziristan met with a small Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegation in Pakistan  and described, in gory and graphic detail, the scenes of drone attacks which they had personally witnessed:  the carbonized bodies, burned so fully they could be identified by legs and hands alone, the bystanders sent flying like dolls through the air to break, with shattered bones and sometimes-fatal brain injuries, upon walls and stone.  

“Do Americans know about the drones?” the journalist asked me.  I said I thought that awareness was growing on University campuses and among peace groups.  “This isn’t what I’m asking,” he politely insisted.  “What I want to know is if average Americans know that their country is attacking Pakistan with drones that carry bombs.  Do they know this?” 

“Truthfully,” I said, “I don’t think so.”  

“Where is your democracy?” he asked me. “Where is your democracy?”

Ideally, in a democracy, people are educated about important matters, and they can influence decisions about these issues by voting for people who represent their point of view. 

Only a handful of U.S. officials have broached the issue of whether or not it is right for the U.S. to use unmanned aerial vehicles to function as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner in the decision to assassinate anyone designated as a “high value target” in faraway Pakistan or Afghanistan.  

Would we want unmanned aerial vehicles piloted by another country to fly over the U.S., targeting individuals deemed to be a threat to the safety of their people, firing Hellfire missiles or dropping 500 pound bombs over suspected “high valuetargets” on the hunch of a soldier or general without evidence and without any consideration of which innocent civilians willalso be killed?  

Fully informed citizens might be invited to consider the Golden Rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but they would certainly be involved in the debate over how we will be treated in future years and decades when these weapons have proliferated. In 1945, only one country possessed the atomic bomb, but within decades, the “nuclear club” had expanded to five declared and four non-declared nuclear-armed states in a much less certain world.  Besides the risk of nuclear war, this weapon proliferation has consumed resources that could have been directed toward feeding a hungry world or eradicating disease or easing the effects of impoverishment.

As of now, worldwide, 49 companies make 450 different drone aircraft. Drone merchants expect that drone sales will earn $20.2 billion over the next 10 years for aerospace war manufacturers. Who knows? One day drone missiles may be aimed at us. 

Also worth noting is the observation that drones will make it politically convenient for any country to order military actions without risking their soldiers’ lives, thereby making it easier, and more tempting, to start wars which may eventually escalate to result in massive loss of life, both military and civilian.

Voices for Creative Nonviolence believes that standing alongside people who bear the brunt of our wars helps us gain needed insights.  Where you stand determines what you see.

In October and again in December of 2010, while in Afghanistan, I met with a large family living in a wretched refugee camp. They had fled their homes in the San Gin district of the Helmand Province after a drone attack killed a mother there and her five children. The woman’s husband showed us photos of his children’s bloodied corpses. His niece, Juma Gul, age 9, had survived the attack. She and I huddled next to each other inside a hut made of mud on a chilly December morning. Juma Gul’s father stooped in front of us and gently unzipped her jacket, showing me that his daughter’s arm had been amputated by shrapnel when the U.S. missile hit their home in San Gin. 

Next to Juma Gul was her brother, whose leg had been mangled in the attack. He apparently has no access to adequate medical care and experiences constant pain.

It’s impossible to conjecture what would have happened had Osama bin Laden been apprehended and brought to appear before a court of law, charged with crimes against humanity because of his alleged role in masterminding the 9/11 attacks.  But, I feel certain beyond doubt that Juma Gul posed no threat whatsoever to the U.S., and if she were brought before a court of law and witnesses were helped to understand that she was attacked by a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle for no reason other than that she happened to live in proximity to a potential high value target, she would be vindicated of any suspicion that she committed a crime.  The same might not be true for those who attacked her.

Kathy Kelly

Kathy Kelly, a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Kathy Kelly’s email is kathy@vcnv.org

 

Is Obama Continuing the Bush/Cheney Assassination Program? July 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Pakistan, Torture, War.
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Published on Tuesday, July 14, 2009 by RebelReports

Congress is outraged that Cheney concealed a CIA program to assassinate al Qaeda leaders, but they should also be investigating why Obama is continuing—and expanding—U.S. assassinations.

by Jeremy Scahill

In June, CIA Director Leon Panetta allegedly informed members of the House Intelligence Committee of the existence of a secret Bush era program implemented in the days after 9-11 that, until last month, had been hidden from lawmakers. The concealment of the plan, Panetta alleged, happened at the orders of then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

Now, The New York Times is reporting that this secret program that had “been hidden from lawmakers” by Cheney was a plan “to dispatch small teams overseas to kill senior Qaeda terrorists.” The Wall Street Journal, which originally reported on the plan, reported that the paramilitary teams were to implement a “2001 presidential legal pronouncement, known as a finding, which authorized the CIA to pursue such efforts.”

The plan, the Times says, never was carried out because “Officials at the spy agency over the years ran into myriad logistical, legal and diplomatic obstacles.” Instead, the Bush administration “sought an alternative to killing terror suspects with missiles fired from drone aircraft or seizing them overseas and imprisoning them in secret C.I.A. jails.”

The House Intelligence Committee is now reportedly preparing an investigation into this program and the Senate may follow suit. “We were kept in the dark. That’s something that should never, ever happen again,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein. Withholding this information from Congress “is a big problem, because the law is very clear.”

There are several important issues raised by this unfolding story. First, while the Times claims the program was never implemented, the program sounds very similar to what Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sy Hersh described in March as an “executive assassination ring” run by Dick Cheney that operated throughout the Bush years:

“Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.”Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.

Hersh’s description sounds remarkably similar to that offered by the Times and the Wall Street Journal. While the House and Senate should certainly investigate this program-and lying to Congress, misleading it or concealing from it such programs is likely illegal-it is also important to guarantee that it has actually stopped. But another pressing issue for the Congress is investigating the Obama administration’s adoption of this secret program’s central components. As the Times noted, the major reason-beyond logistical hurdles-that the program was not implemented (if that is even true) was that the Bush administration began increasing its use of weaponized drones to conduct Israeli-style targeted assassinations (often, these drones kill many more civilians than so-called “targets”). These drone attacks, coupled with the use of extraordinary rendition and secret prisons, became the official program for “eliminating” specific individuals labeled “high value” targets by the administration.

The Obama administration has not only continued the Bush policy of using drones to carry out targeted assassinations, but has also continued the use of prisons where people are held indefinitely without charge or access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Under Obama, Bagram air base in Afghanistan is expanding and, at present, hundreds of prisoners are held there without charges. In essence, the Obama administration is doing exactly what this secret CIA program sought to do, albeit out in the open.

Beyond the Cheney assassination program, what is really worthy of Congressional investigation right now is the legality of Obama’s current policy of assassination. In 1976, President Gerald Ford issued an executive order banning assassinations. “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination,” states Executive Order 11905.

White House lawyers–with their seemingly infinite legal creativity–would likely say that the drone strikes are not assassinations, but rather part of war. That putting poison in a cigar of a foreign leader is different than launching missiles at a funeral where an “enemy” is believed to be among the mourners. While the implications of the U.S. assassinating heads of state or foreign officials are grave, it could be argued that, on some levels, the drone attacks are worse in the sense that they kill many more civilians. Moreover, these drone attacks largely take place is Pakistan, which is a sovereign nation. There is no legal or Congressional declaration of war against Pakistan.

It is long past due that the Congress investigate this U.S. government assassination program. The politically inconvenient truth, however, is this: An actual investigation would require the Democrats pounding Cheney over his concealment of an assassination program (that allegedly was not implemented) to focus their investigation on how President Obama actually implemented and expanded that very program.

© 2009 Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

Wall Street Journal Loves Obama’s Drone War Vs. Pakistan: ‘Unmanned Bombs Away’ July 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Media, Pakistan, War.
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Published on Monday, July 13, 2009 by RebelReports

The paper’s editors attack unembedded journalists who report the Pakistani deaths. Instead, they say, we should all just shut up and listen to U.S. intelligence agencies.

by Jeremy Scahill

The Wall Street Journal is officially in love with President Obama’s undeclared air war inside of Pakistan’s borders. In an unsigned editorial, the paper enthusiastically endorses Obama’s use of predator drones to bomb areas throughout Pakistan. The WSJ editors praise the administration, saying “to its credit, [the White House] has stepped up the use of Predators.” The editors declare: “When Pakistan’s government can exercise sovereignty over all its territory, there will be no need for Predator strikes. In the meantime, unmanned bombs away.”

The paper accurately notes some of the reasons for opposing drone strikes: “the belief that the attacks cause wide-scale casualties among noncombatants, thereby embittering local populations and losing hearts and minds.” The WSJ also accurately reports:

Lord Bingham, until recently Britain’s senior law lord, has recently said UAV strikes may be “beyond the pale” and potentially on a par with cluster bombs and landmines. Australian counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen says “the Predator [drone] strikes have an entirely negative effect on Pakistani stability.” He adds, “We should be cutting strikes back pretty substantially.”

But Bingham and Kilcullen are naive fools, according to the WSJ editors. Moreover, they are fools who have been suckered by evil un-embedded reporters. “If you glean your information from wire reports – which depend on stringers who are rarely eyewitnesses,” the editors quip, “the argument [against drone attacks] seems almost plausible.” Right, these “stringers” who often risk their lives to reveal the human toll of U.S. bombings are far less credible than the fat cat editors of the WSJ (some of whom are probably in the Hamptons having servants clip their toe nails or mix their Martinis as I write this).

The WSJ editors descend from their thrones to mingle among the mortals and teach us the error of our ways:

Yet anyone familiar with Predator technology knows how misleading those reports can be. Unlike fighter jets or cruise missiles, Predators can loiter over their targets for more than 20 hours, take photos in which men, women and children can be clearly distinguished (burqas can be visible from 20,000 feet) and deliver laser-guided munitions with low explosive yields. This minimizes the risks of the “collateral damage” that often comes from 500-pound bombs. Far from being “beyond the pale,” drones have made war-fighting more humane.

Ah, yes, that famous humane war we have all been waiting for. Finally!

The WSJ editors then reveal the highly independent, impeccable source for their information: “A U.S. intelligence summary we’ve seen corrects the record of various media reports claiming high casualties from the Predator strikes.” Wow. Remember when the Bush administration was correcting all those errors about Saddam’s WMDs? Not surprisingly, the WSJ states that “In each of the strikes in 2009 that are described by the intelligence summary, the report says no women or children were killed. Moreover, we know of planned drone attacks that were aborted when Predator cameras spied their presence.”

The WSJ wants this U.S. “intelligence” shared with the American public and the world, arguing, “We understand there will always be issues concerning sources and methods. But critics of the drone attacks, especially Pakistani critics, have become increasingly vocal in their opposition. They deserve to know about the terrorist calamities they’ve been spared thanks to these unmanned flights over their territory.”

It is very telling that the WSJ editorial-with no apparent shame-fails to mention the U.S. drone attacks last month that may have killed more than 80 people in Pakistan, including as many as 70 people in a U.S. bombing of a funeral procession in a tribal area. The WSJ editors defend the attacks, saying they are killing “high value targets,” saying of those killed by U.S. drone strikes, “Is the world better off with these people dead? We think so.” But the fact is that some statistics from the Pakistani government suggested that of the 700+ people killed in these U.S. drone strikes since 2006, 14 were “high value targets” or “al Qaeda” leaders and the vast majority were civilians. In this case, the real question is: “What does it say about the U.S. that its government authorizes the killing of these civilians?”

© 2009 Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

Do U.S. drones kill Pakistani extremists or recruit them? April 8, 2009

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U.S. drone attacks “may have hurt more than they have helped,” said a U.S. military official who’s been deeply involved in counterterrorism operations. The official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, called the drone operations a “recruiting windfall for the Pakistani Taliban.”

“They (drone strikes) are counterproductive,” said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. “My view is they are causing collateral damage, my view is that they are alienating people, my view is that they are working to the advantage of the extremists. We (Pakistan and the U.S.) have agreed to disagree on this.”

Al Qaida, Taliban and other militants who’ve been relocating to Pakistan’s overcrowded and impoverished cities may be harder to find and stop from staging terrorist attacks, the officials said.

Moreover, they said, the strikes by the missile-firing drones are a recruiting boon for extremists because of the unintended civilian casualties that have prompted widespread anger against the U.S.

“Putting these guys on the run forces a lot of good things to happen,” said a senior U.S. defense official who requested anonymity because the drone operations, run by the CIA and the Air Force, are top-secret. “It gives you more targeting opportunities. The downside is that you get a much more dispersed target set and they go to places where we are not operating.”

U.S. drone attacks “may have hurt more than they have helped,” said a U.S. military official who’s been deeply involved in counterterrorism operations. The official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, called the drone operations a “recruiting windfall for the Pakistani Taliban.”

“A significant number of bad actors aren’t where they used to be,” but have moved to “places where we can’t get at them the way we could,” he added.

As a result of the drone attacks, insurgent activities are “more dispersed in Pakistan and focusing on Pakistani targets,” said Christine Fair of the RAND Corp., a policy institute that advises the Pentagon. “So we have shifted the costs.”

President Barack Obama for now has embraced the drone strikes, which U.S. officials said have killed up to one dozen important al Qaida operatives.

“If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we’re going after them,” Obama said in a March 29 interview with CBS News.

Several U.S. intelligence, military officials and independent experts, however, said that they’re especially worried by an influx of extremists from the tribal areas into the slums of Karachi. The capital of southern Sindh Province, with a population of at least 12 million, is Pakistan’s financial center and main port as well as the entry point for most of the supplies bound for U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Many militants are thought to have taken refuge among Karachi’s estimated 3.5 million Pashtuns, the ethnic group comprising the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their presence is stoking tensions with other groups in the southern city, which has a long history of communal bloodshed and terrorism, including against Western targets.

“The who’s who of extremism is present in Karachi,” said Faisal Ali Subzwari, a Sindh government minister. “There are many areas where police and (paramilitary) Rangers cannot even dare to enter. It is a safe haven for those who want a hiding place.”

Subzwari, whose Mohajir Quami Movement represents immigrants from India and has repeatedly warned of the “Talibanization” of Karachi, said that part of his own constituency is one of these “no-go” areas.

U.S. officials have long identified Karachi as the headquarters of the Afghan Taliban’s fundraising committee, and many top militants were educated at the Binori Mosque, a key center of radical Islamic ideology. A “feeder” network of militant seminaries in Karachi supplies young suicide bombers, they said.

An upheaval in Karachi, home to Pakistan’s stock exchange and other financial institutions, would be catastrophic for a country that has only avoided bankruptcy with a $7.6 billion International Monetary Fund emergency credit line. Financial activities, as well as imports and exports for both Pakistan and landlocked Afghanistan, could be paralyzed, as could supplies for U.S.-led NATO forces in the region.

Concerns over “blowback” from the drone strikes is fueling a debate in the Obama administration over whether they should be extended from the Federally Administered Tribal Area, the region bordering eastern Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding, to Baluchistan Province, the alleged refuge of the Afghan Taliban leadership, U.S. officials said.

Proponents of the drone strikes cite the killing of key al Qaida operatives and the disruption of the terrorist network’s ability to plot new attacks; opponents, said to include some senior administration officials, fear that the operations are too destabilizing for nuclear-armed Pakistan and are doing nothing to halt the insurgencies tearing through the country and Afghanistan.

“There is no uniform opinion on this,” the senior defense official said. “You have some concerns that they are causing a ripple effect, that the consequences are too large for Pakistan to absorb.”

Several U.S. officials argued that it would be easier for U.S. and Pakistani authorities, including the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, to track down militants who leave the remote border region for the cities. They pointed out that senior al Qaida operatives in U.S. custody were found in Pakistani urban areas.

Critics, however, noted that the ISI and the Pakistani military can’t be relied on to cooperate, because while they’ve turned over foreign militants, some former and current ISI and army officers are believed support Afghan and Pakistani groups.

There’ve been dozens of drone strikes in the past year, the most recent killing 13 people in the tribal region of North Waziristan on Saturday. The next day, a top Pakistani Taliban leader threatened to launch two suicide attacks every week unless the strikes stop. His threat followed a series of suicide bombings in the heartland province of Punjab.

A senior Pakistani official reiterated the government’s opposition to the drone operations after talks Tuesday in Islamabad with Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“They (drone strikes) are counterproductive,” said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. “My view is they are causing collateral damage, my view is that they are alienating people, my view is that they are working to the advantage of the extremists. We (Pakistan and the U.S.) have agreed to disagree on this.”

CIA and the Air Force operators remotely pilot the missile-firing Predator and Reaper drones, known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs, from the U.S. But the aircraft fly from an airbase in Baluchistan, according to some experts, with the permission of Pakistani military officials who privately back the operations and want U.S. approval to buy drones of their own.

“Obviously, this enjoys high-level (Pakistani) approval,” Fair said.

U.S. military and intelligence officials said that the U.S. drone strikes are only one factor behind the outflow of extremists into other parts of Pakistan.

News reports that the Obama administration is considering extending the attacks to Taliban refuges in Pashtun-dominated northern Baluchistan, including around the provincial capital of Quetta, have also contributed to the movement, they said.

Moreover, they said, some militants have moved into Pakistan’s heartland because of tensions between the groups in the tribal region.

A U.S. intelligence official who’s been deeply involved in the counter-terrorism campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, however, called the drone operations “a major catalyst” for the movement.

“The UAV strikes have had two unintended consequences,” said the U.S. intelligence official, who requested anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly and because much of the information is classified.

“First, al Qaida and the Taliban have used our use of unmanned aircraft in their propaganda to portray Americans as cowards who are afraid to face their enemies and risk death. In their culture, and in the context of what they portray as a war between Western religions and Islam, that can be a powerful argument,” he said.

“Second and not surprisingly,” he continued, “rather than sit around in the (tribal region) waiting for the next strike, some of the jihadis have moved into Pakistan proper, into Karachi and even into Punjab, where we can’t target them and where they’re in a better position to attack the Pakistani government.”

Bill Moyers Journal: Missile Attacks on Pakistan February 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Pakistan, Uncategorized.
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MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah, but that’s, that’s you know, he’s read history. He should at least or he should have been very familiar with the Johnson administration. That’s exactly the trap that Johnson walked into. And it’s not necessary. I have this odd notion that the American public is actually, in the main, adult enough to listen and think and to respond to a president who says, I’m going to tell you what’s going on. For eight years there has been miasma, lies, deception, bizarre behavior. We’re going to change that and not just economically and not just domestically. But we’re really going to see what we’re doing everywhere. That means I did not approve a military move I was urged to approve because I want to know what I’m doing. And I’m sure my fellow citizens will join me in wishing to know what it is the United States is doing militarily before it does it.

See also:

https://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/2009/01/30/obama-continues-bush-policy-of-deadly-air-strikes-in-pakistan/?

 

https://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/2009/01/30/barack-obama-international-outlaw/?

Bill Moyers Journal, January 30, 2009

             

     
 

         
January 30, 2009

 

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL.

Very often in the White House, the most momentous decisions are, at the time, the least dramatic, the least discussed. And they don’t make news, or history, until much later, when their consequences bubble to the surface downstream. There are observers who think that could prove to be the case with a decision made within hours of Barack Obama’s swearing in last week.

It started as a few lines in wire reports – a bit of buzz on the web – then a story here and there in the weekend papers. Unmanned American drones like this one, called Predators, honing in on villages in Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan, striking like silent intruders in the night, against suspected terrorists.

Early accounts of casualties varied from a dozen to more than 20 dead and wounded. One Pakistani security official told THE WASHINGTON POST that perhaps ten insurgents had been killed, maybe even a high value target, a senior member of al Qaeda or the Taliban. Then the TIMES of London quoted locals who said “… three children lost their lives” when the missiles destroyed several homes.

Since last August, 38 suspected U.S. missile strikes have killed at least 132 people in Pakistan, where allegedly we are not at war.

In next door Afghanistan, the number is much higher. For seven years American and NATO forces have been chasing Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban, not only with Predator drones, but with guided missiles and bomber raids as well. According to the United Nations and the organization Human Rights Watch, aerial bombing has killed or wounded more than a thousand civilians, what the Pentagon calls, “collateral damage.”

The death of civilians has brought sharp criticism, including from some of our NATO allies and the president of Afghanistan. They believe the bombing is turning people in both Afghanistan and Pakistan against the West, actually undermining an effective campaign against terrorists.

The bombing of civilians from the sky is an old and questionable practice, argued over since the moment the military began to fly. It was deliberate strategy in World Wars I and II. American presidents approved it in Korea and extensively in Vietnam, again in the first Gulf War, then in Bosnia and Kosovo, and six years ago during the campaign of “shock and awe” over Iraq.

But what lifted those reports last weekend out of the routine is the simple fact that for the first time the air strikes occurred on President Obama’s watch. As he said during his campaign, and as Secretary of Defense Gates reaffirmed this week, Obama is escalating America’s military presence in Afghanistan. He may increase it to as many as 60,000 troops this year.

When I read the first story about the Predator strikes last weekend, I thought back to 1964, and another president.

LYNDON JOHNSON: My fellow Americans…

BILL MOYERS: After an encounter in the Gulf of Tonkin between American destroyers and North Vietnamese torpedo boats, President Lyndon Johnson ordered bombing raids over North Vietnam.

 

LYNDON JOHNSON: Air action is now in execution…

BILL MOYERS: LBJ said we want no wider war, but wider war is what we got, eleven years of it.

Now military analysts and historians, including my two guests are wondering aloud – could Afghanistan become “Obama’s war,” a quagmire that threatens to define his presidency, as Vietnam defined LBJ’s?

Marilyn Young is a professor of history at New York University. She’s published numerous books and essays on foreign policy, including THE VIETNAM WARS, 1945-1990, THE NEW AMERICAN EMPIRE and IRAQ AND THE LESSONS OF VIETNAM. She is the co-editor of a collection of essays to be released next month titled BOMBING CIVILIANS: A TWENTIETH-CENTURY HISTORY.

Pierre Sprey is a former Pentagon official, one of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s famous “whiz kids” who helped design and develop two of the military’s most successful airplanes, the F-16 Falcon Fighter and the A-10 Warthog Tankbuster. But in the late 1970s, with a handful of Pentagon and congressional insiders, Sprey helped found the military reform movement. They risked their careers taking issue with a defense bureaucracy spending more and more money for fewer and fewer, often ineffective weapons.

You will find an essay with his shared by-line in this new book, AMERICA’S DEFENSE MELTDOWN, published by the Center for Defense Information.

Welcome to both of you.

 MARILYN YOUNG: Thank you.

PIERRE SPREY: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: Marilyn, what did you think last weekend when four days into the Obama administration we read those reports of the strikes in Pakistan?

MARILYN YOUNG: My heart sank. It absolutely sank. It had been very high. I had been, like I think the rest of the country, feeling immensely encouraged and inspired by this new administration and by the energy and vigor with which he began. And then comes this piece of old stuff on approach to a complicated question that in comes in the form of a bomb and a bomb in the most dangerous of all places. And, yeah, my heart sank, literally.

BILL MOYERS: Our military, Pierre, says it’s sure that it’s striking militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And that they’re not targeting civilians. Can they be sure? From your experience, can they be sure?

PIERRE SPREY: I’m sure that their purpose is to strike militants. I have no doubt of that whatsoever. But with the weapons they use and with the extremely flawed intelligence they have.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yes.

PIERRE SPREY: I’d be astonished if one in five people they kill or wound is in fact, a militant.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean “flawed intelligence”?

PIERRE SPREY: You can’t tell with a camera or an infrared sensor or something whether somebody’s a Taliban. In the end, you’re relying on either, you know, some form of intercepted communications, which doesn’t point at a person. It just, you know, points at a radio or a cell phone or something like that. Or, most likely, you’re relying on some Afghani of unknown veracity and unknown motivation and who may, may very well be trying to settle a blood feud rather than give you good information.

BILL MOYERS: But don’t these drone planes and Predator missiles provide a commander-in-chief, a President of the United States, with enormous political convenience for being able to order military action without risking American lives?

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: Yes.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah, it’s-

PIERRE SPREY: But-

MARILYN YOUNG: Simple. Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: And-

MARILYN YOUNG: And then-

PIERRE SPREY: A very dangerous option because it’s so convenient and because at home it’s politically acceptable because our boys aren’t dying on the ground, it gets us into tremendous trouble, which, of course, in general is true of bombing.

BILL MOYERS: And your-

PIERRE SPREY: Bombing is always politically popular relative to sending infantry and killing our boys.

BILL MOYERS: Aren’t these drone planes and these Predator missiles effective? Don’t they get the bad guys, even though they might kill a few civilians?

PIERRE SPREY: Their importance is enormously exaggerated, as is their glamour. A Predator is a very large radio-controlled model airplane with a 48-foot wingspan and a snowmobile motor in the back. It only goes about 80 miles an hour. And it stays up for 10, 15 hours and carries a missile. And when they launch the missile, the missile is not pinpoint accurate. You know, if it’s a house, reasonably often it hits the house it’s aimed at. And when it does, it usually kills a bunch of other people around.

MARILYN YOUNG: And it’s true, you can aim at this table. But the question is who’s sitting at – well, they might want to aim at this table. But, you know, who’s sitting at the table? And you don’t know. Or actually you do want to hit Pierre but you don’t want to hit the two of us. Unfortunately, pieces of what hit him hit us. And we are severely injured or dead. But really Pierre is what you wanted and Pierre is what you got. And this is supposed to be a triumph. And it seems to me that it is a triumph in the most abstract sense. And if you are on the ground as one of these things come at you, the material meaning of being bombed becomes very clear. And that’s not ever discussed or taken into account.

BILL MOYERS: The material meaning?

MARILYN YOUNG: Yes. What it feels like to be bombed, not to be in the crosshairs going down but to be on the ground looking up. And the footage that we have in the sense we have of drones is of someone 10,000 miles away pushing a button and, wham, there it goes. But nobody’s sitting there on the ground looking at what happens after it goes up.

PIERRE SPREY: And what happens on the ground is for every one of those impacts you get five or ten times as many recruits for the Taliban as you’ve eliminated. The people that we’re trying to convince to become adherents to our cause have turned rigidly hostile to our cause in part because of bombing and in part because of, you know, other killing of civilians from ground forces. But we’re dealing with a society here, that’s based on honor, you know? The Pashtun are very ancient people.

BILL MOYERS: This is the tribe in the southern part of the-

PIERRE SPREY: Well, it’s not a tribe. It’s a nation. This is 40 million people spread across Afghanistan and Pakistan, you know, who don’t even recognize that border. It’s their land.

BILL MOYERS: Forty million?

PIERRE SPREY: There’s 40 million of them. That’s a nation, not a tribe. Within it are tribal groupings and so on. But they all speak the common language. And they all have a very similar, very rigid, in lots of ways very admirable code of honor much stronger than their adherence to Islam.

PIERRE SPREY: They have to resist, you know, being invaded, occupied, bombed, and killed. It’s a matter of honor. And they’re willing to die in unbelievable numbers to do that.

BILL MOYERS: Are you suggesting that these strikes could be contributed to the destabilization of Pakistan, one of our allies?

MARILYN YOUNG: It’s clear that they’re doing that. I mean, there never was before an organization called Taliban in Pakistan. This didn’t exist as an organization. It does now. It’s unclear to me as well the relationship between our punitive enemy, al Qaeda, and the Taliban. That’s unclear. And it’s, it’s very unclear what American policy will be with respect to either group. Mainly what’s unclear is what our goal is in Afghanistan. It’s really unclear.

BILL MOYERS: Well, we went there to get Osama bin Laden after 9/11 and to free Afghanistan from the brutal grip of the Taliban, religious extremists who were wrecking misery and creating a base there for al Qaeda, right? That was-

PIERRE SPREY: And we failed miserably on both missions, you know? al Qaeda’s obviously flourishing, undoubtedly stronger around the world than it was when we started this in 2001. And what did we liberate the country from? We certainly caused the Taliban to withdraw. We didn’t defeat them. They withdrew. And Afghanistan turned into a battleground for warring huge, extremely violent drug gangs. All these provincial governors, all these people we call warlords euphemistically are large-scale drug gangsters.

MARILYN YOUNG: Uh-huh.

PIERRE SPREY: And the country was ripped apart by them. And that’s why the Taliban is coming back.

BILL MOYERS: You saw the story in “The Washington Post” this week from Secretary of Defense Gates who says, you know, we’re not longer going to be involved with these gangsters you talk about, with a corrupt government of Karzai in Kabul. We’re going to concentrate instead on doing something about the mess you just described by waging a war that will ultimately defeat the insurgents. That was, in effect, his message. New strategy.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

BILL MOYERS: Involvement with the civilian government.

MARILYN YOUNG: And we’ll focus on the provinces. And there is also an implication from earlier stories that there will be an effort to buy off various warlords to try and import some of what was done in Iraq into Afghanistan. The problem is the focus remains a military solution to what all the other information I have says is a political problem. So I don’t care how you slice the military tactic, so long as your notion is that you can actually deal with this in a military way, you’re just going to march deeper and deeper into what Pete Seeger used to call the Big Muddy or I guess in Afghanistan it’s pretty dry. It would be some other expression. But the point is if you can’t figure out a political way to deal in Afghanistan then you can only compound the compound mess that Pierre talked about.

PIERRE SPREY: Yeah, the military approach is always and the conventional think tank approach and the General Petraeus approach is, first, we’ll establish security.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right. That’s-

PIERRE SPREY: And then we’ll fix the government.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: That doesn’t work. In fact, that’s already failed. And the more we try to fix the security situation, the more we will drive these people, particularly the Pashtun, into implacable opposition. And whether the military solution is more bombing from Predators or from F-16s or more special forces on the ground, you know, attacking villages and inadvertently killing lots of civilians, it doesn’t matter. As long as security comes first, the mission will fail because these people are sick and tired of a government that’s oppressing them and a foreigner who’s killing them.

BILL MOYERS: There was a photo the other day of a protest in Pakistan, a few days after a drone attacked. The banner reads, quote, “Bombing on tribes. Obama’s first gift to Pakistan.” Now, that’s part of the blowback, isn’t it?

PIERRE SPREY: That’s incredibly dangerous.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: I mean, I don’t think people in America have any sense of how dangerous that is. By bombing into those areas, those traditional Pashtun areas, that the Pakistani government long ago made a pact, you know, at the founding of the state of Pakistan to never invade those areas and to leave the Pashtun to govern themselves. And we are forcing the Pakistanis to break that pact, both on the ground with their army. And we’re breaking it by bombing the Pashtun in Pakistan. That is taking a weak and also rotten Pakistani government and crumbling it. That’s putting them on the horns of a dilemma that they don’t need. Why is that so dangerous to us? Because this is a nuclear armed country. And when they fall apart and fall into the hands of people like, people that are running Afghanistan, you could have a nuclear war with India, you know? I mean, we’re talking about not just blowback but we’re talking about catastrophe could result.

MARILYN YOUNG: You know, the thing that gets me, Obama appoints George Mitchell and he says what we’re going to do is listen. What we’re going to do is figure we’re just going to listen. And in his first press interview on that Arab TV network, which was a brilliant move I thought, he talked about respect. BARACK OBAMA [SOT]: We are ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest.

MARILYN YOUNG: He used the word “respect” repeatedly. And it’s an excellent word to use and an important one. He, it’s not impossible to say we’re going to pause in Afghanistan and listen. We’re going to think about it. We’re going to figure it out. We’re not going to move militarily at this moment until we know what we’re doing.

BILL MOYERS: But suppose, Marilyn that somebody from the Pentagon came to the White House right after the inauguration and said, “You know, we’ve had this drone attack planned. And we’ve spotted these insurgents whom we think really are militants–”

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

BILL MOYERS: “and killers in their own right. And we want to – we want you to approve this raid.” And suppose he had said no four days after the inauguration and that had been leaked. You know what would have happened on all of the right-wing talk radio shows in.

MARILYN YOUNG: Sure.

BILL MOYERS: And maybe “The Washington Post” and editorial page and others like that. He has no backbone, right? I mean, wasn’t he in a sense, trapped by this option?

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah, but that’s, that’s you know, he’s read history. He should at least or he should have been very familiar with the Johnson administration. That’s exactly the trap that Johnson walked into. And it’s not necessary. I have this odd notion that the American public is actually, in the main, adult enough to listen and think and to respond to a president who says, I’m going to tell you what’s going on. For eight years there has been miasma, lies, deception, bizarre behavior. We’re going to change that and not just economically and not just domestically. But we’re really going to see what we’re doing everywhere. That means I did not approve a military move I was urged to approve because I want to know what I’m doing. And I’m sure my fellow citizens will join me in wishing to know what it is the United States is doing militarily before it does it.

PIERRE SPREY: I would applaud, I would have the utmost admiration.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: For any leader, even for a senator or congressman who had the guts to say exactly what you just said. But it’s not in the cards. And we knew it wasn’t in the cards when during the campaign Obama subscribed to the fact that we’re in a war on terror.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: This is not a war on terror. You know? And anybody who starts from the premise that it’s a war on terror is heading straight into disasters error.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: And he said-

BILL MOYERS: I don’t understand that because George W. Bush defined this as a war on terror. And I think Obama must be using the same invocation, you know?

PIERRE SPREY: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: This is all part of the war on terror. He said it in his inaugural address.

PIERRE SPREY: Yes, he said that. I was appalled. You talk about our hearts sinking.

PIERRE SPREY: 9/11 was not an act of war.

BILL MOYERS: What was it?

PIERRE SPREY: It was a criminal act. It was a simple.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: Criminal act by a bunch of lunatic fanatic violent people who needed to be tracked down and apprehended and tried exactly as you would with any other lunatic violent person, like we do with our own domestic terrorists, like the guy who bombed the Oklahoma federal building.

BILL MOYERS: Federal building. Right.

PIERRE SPREY: You know? Exactly the same thing we did to him is what we should have launched on a huge basis, of course, on a huge international police basis and not called it.

MARILYN YOUNG: And there would have been totally international support.

PIERRE SPREY: It’s not a war.

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: We, by calling it a war, we have glorified al Qaeda. We have glorified the cause of violent radical Islam. All that tiny minority have become heroes. And we made them heroes. We made their propaganda. We made their case for them.

BILL MOYERS: Let me read you an excerpt from the official White House statement on foreign policy under President Obama. Quote, “Obama and Biden will refocus American resources on the greatest threat to our security, the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, press our allies in NATO to do the same, and dedicate more resources to revitalize Afghanistan’s economic development.” There you have a very clear statement of their intentions that we’re going to concentrate on the war. And in fact by the end of this year there’ll be 60,000, not 30,000 American troops in Afghanistan. And there’s no indication the strikes, the air strikes that are killing civilians are going to stop.

PIERRE SPREY: And the 60,000-

MARILYN YOUNG: No.

PIERRE SPREY: -will be useless.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: You know, the Russians at the peak of their invasion – who dealt with the Afghanis a good deal more brutally than we did – had over 150,000 and a trained a 250,000 man Afghan army. And they lost. 60,000 is a recipe for failure, defeat, and ultimately a disgraceful withdrawal by the United States. One way or another, no matter how nice a face we put on it, we’ll be kicked out of there just like we were kicked out of Vietnam.

BILL MOYERS: Speaking of Vietnam, and you’ve written so much about this, we have a conversation between President Johnson and, your old boss, Secretary of Defense McNamara about bombing. Take a look at this. ROBERT McNAMARA [SOT]: If we hurt them enough it isn’t so much that they don’t have more men as it is that they can’t get the men to fight because the men know that once they get assigned to that task their chances of living are small. And I, myself, believe that’s the only chance we have of winning this thing. And when they see they’re getting killed in such high rates in the South and they see that supplies are less likely to come down from the North, I think it will just hurt their morale a little bit more. And to me that’s the only way to win, because we’re not killing enough of them to make it impossible for the North to continue to fight. But we are killing enough to destroy the morale of those people down there if they think this is going to have to go on forever. PRESIDENT JOHNSON [SOT]: All right. Go ahead, Bob. ROBERT McNAMARA: Thanks.

BILL MOYERS: Now, Secretary McNamara and President Johnson were talking about a different kind of bombing from the drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a lot more of it. But do you see a historical parallel there?

PIERRE SPREY: Absolutely.

MARILYN YOUNG: Oh, yeah. I mean, the notion that you will break the will of the enemy, I – that’s such a depressing clip. I just can’t – I mean, it just sinks me right back into the moment when all that was going on. Winston Churchill is held up as a great hero because he defies German bombing and says we will fight them everywhere. They can’t break our will. And he is considered a great hero. McNamara is incapable of reading that same spirit back into his enemy. Instead, he assumes that he can bomb them into submission. And it’s the same notion now that you can scare them, break their will. And the drone, this precise thing, is maybe, in the minds of those who use it, even more scary because you don’t see us but we see you. And zap we gotcha. But it’s, again, an effort to deal with a political issue with force. And it doesn’t work.

BILL MOYERS: Pierre, as I said in the introduction, you helped develop a couple of very effective fighter planes. Is there a moral dimension to this use of drones that you didn’t see in a more conventional kind of weapon?

PIERRE SPREY: There’s a moral dimension to every kind of bombing that destroys civilians, particularly bombing that destroys more civilians than military people. You can’t avoid it. There’s nothing notable about the drones that changes that. And the moral dimension is very simple. And it dates back to the original theologian of bombing, Julio Doue, a rather fanatical Italian from World War I who first hypothesized, wrongly, that you could destroy an enemy’s morale, exactly what you said, and win victories without any ground armies if you simply bombed them enough. And secondly, that the bombers would always get through, that they would always defeat fighter opposition and antiaircraft opposition. Both propositions have been provided in history over and over and over again to be not only wrong but thumpingly wrong.

BILL MOYERS: Has civilian bombing ever been effective, Marilyn?

MARILYN YOUNG: I can’t think. Can you?

PIERRE SPREY: The answer is no.

MARILYN YOUNG: No.

PIERRE SPREY: Very simply, no.

BILL MOYERS: Here you say there are none.

MARILYN YOUNG: No. I don’t think ever.

PIERRE SPREY: And by the way-

MARILYN YOUNG: No.

PIERRE SPREY: You know? Churchill tried it. Churchill, by the way, after that brave stand to resist the Germans, turned around and, for politic reasons, just like our leaders, decided that it would be a great idea to simply area bomb Germany. What that means is to kill civilians. And they deliberately set out to kill German civilians on the same premise of Julio Doue that we would kind of kill them into submission. And it failed miserably.

BILL MOYERS: Does it seem to you that President Obama believes he can escape the outcome in Afghanistan that George W. Bush did not escape in Iraq?

MARILYN YOUNG: Right. I think he does think he can escape it. I think anybody would imagine coming into fresh into power would imagine he can make it happen better. If he didn’t believe that, he would not have said – he would not have signed off on the drone attack. So I think he thinks he can escape it. And by fiddling within the same set of tactics that the Bush administration did. And isn’t it any – there’s no new thinking going on.

PIERRE SPREY: See, that’s the problem.

MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: Is – he’s surrounded by people who tell him, you know, “Boss, you know, all we need is, like, 30,000 more people here to secure the nation. And we need to get rid of Karzai because he’s a problem. And we got a few more Band-aids here, and it’ll all be fine.” So-

BILL MOYERS: We couldn’t keep up with who we were getting rid of in Saigon, you know? I’m serious about that.

PIERRE SPREY: Exactly. And we’re-

MARILYN YOUNG: Right.

PIERRE SPREY: It’s – same thing’s going to happen when we get rid of Karzai because the people behind him are worse. And they will be worse. And Obama is going to be in exactly that situation, surrounded by a bunch of Robert McNamaras, except not so smart.

BILL MOYERS: So do you believe “The New York Times” was accurate the other day when it said Afghanistan could quickly come to define the Obama presidency?

MARILYN YOUNG: I hope not. I cannot tell you how much I hope not. I think – he’s got so much he wants to do. And he has so many good things he wants to do. And he starts out, you know, really marvelously, trying to do those good things. And if he is deflected, as Johnson was, that would be, well, it’s this sort of tragedies that America’s good at. It turns out to be as much a tragedy for the people we’re supposedly engaged with as it is for us.

PIERRE SPREY: I’m pessimistic on that. I’m more pessimistic than Marilyn.

MARILYN YOUNG: I’m, yeah.

PIERRE SPREY: I think he will be trapped in it. I think.

MARILYN YOUNG: I’m hopeful.

PIERRE SPREY: I mean, he’s already-

MARILYN YOUNG: I’m not, I knock wood a lot.

PIERRE SPREY: He’s already so committed through his campaign of reinforcing Afghanistan and continuing the path we’ve been on unless he finds an act of enormous political will and courage and a way of explaining it to the American people that, you know, we’ve engaged on a path that’s wrong and that’s not going to work. And I’m about to reverse course. That’s really hard to do.

MARILYN YOUNG: You know, it’s-

PIERRE SPREY: And if he doesn’t reverse course, it’s the same quicksand. It’s deeper and deeper, step by step.

MARILYN YOUNG: See, suppose that Osama bin Laden stayed where he was. Suppose he did. I mean, the acts of terror occur or they don’t occur and they’re deflected or they’re not deflected no matter where he’s living, right?

PIERRE SPREY: Yep.

MARILYN YOUNG: So the question of why we’re in Afghanistan looms very large indeed.

PIERRE SPREY: Absolutely.

MARILYN YOUNG: Since it doesn’t seem to relate in any way I can really name with precision American security.

BILL MOYERS: Two important books, “Bombing Civilians: A 20th Century History,” with Marilyn Young, and “America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress,” with an important chapter from Pierre Sprey. Thank you both for being with me on the Journal.

MARILYN YOUNG: Thank you, Bill.

PIERRE SPREY: Thank you, Bill.

Obama Continues Bush Policy of Deadly Air Strikes in Pakistan January 30, 2009

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www.democracynow.org, January 30, 2009

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Pakistan, where outrage continues to mount over the US military’s first act of war approved by President Obama. Last Friday, unmanned US Predator drones fired missiles at houses in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, killing as many as twenty-two people, including at least three children.

 

The United States has carried out thirty such drone attacks on alleged al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistani territory since last summer, killing some 250 people, according to a tally by Reuters.

 

The Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday that US drone attacks were “counterproductive” and ended up uniting local communities with militants. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated Tuesday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that such strikes will continue and that Pakistani officials are aware of US policy on this matter.

    ROBERT GATES: Both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after al-Qaeda wherever al-Qaeda is, and we will continue to pursue them.

    SEN. CARL LEVIN: Has that decision been transmitted to the Pakistan government?

    ROBERT GATES: Yes, sir.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Pakistani officials, however, deny there’s any agreement with the United States to secretly allow drone attacks inside Pakistan. Defense Secretary Gates’s comments on the missile attacks were the first to publicly acknowledge the strikes since last Friday. This is an excerpt of last Friday’s White House press briefing with, well, the new press secretary, Robert Gibbs.

    REPORTER: And other US officials have confirmed these Predator drone air strikes, Pakistan. What is it about cannot confirming whether the President was consulted—

     

    ROBERT GIBBS: I’m not going to get into these matters.

     

    REPORTER: How does that compromise operational security?

     

    ROBERT GIBBS: I’m not going to get into these matters.

     

    REPORTER: Don’t you think it’s justifiable curiosity, Robert, about the President’s first military action—

     

    ROBERT GIBBS: I think there are many things that you should be justifiably curious about, but I’m not going to get into talking about—

     

    REPORTER: If other members of the US government are confirming this, why is it that you can’t comment?

     

    ROBERT GIBBS: I’m not going to get into these matters.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Joseph Biden also refused to comment Sunday as to whether the United States would notify Pakistan before sending forces into their territory. He was on CBS’s Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer.

    BOB SCHIEFFER: Last week, an American drone apparently attacked an al-Qaeda force, or what they thought was an al-Qaeda force, in the territorial part of Pakistan, a cross-border operation. It’s my understanding that the President, the previous president, gave our US forces and the CIA permission to go across that border, to go after al-Qaeda if it became necessary on the ground. Does President Obama—will he continue that policy?

    VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Bob, as you know, I can’t speak to any particular attack. I can’t speak to any particular action. It’s not appropriate for me to do that.

     

    But I can say that the President of the United States said during his campaign and in the debates that if there is an actionable target of a high-level al-Qaeda personnel, that he would not hesitate to use action to deal with that.

     

    But here’s the good news. The good news is that in my last trip—and I’ve been to Pakistan many times and that region many times—there is a great deal more cooperation going on now between the Pakistan military in an area called the FATA, the Federally Administered Territory—Waziristan, North Waziristan—all that area we hear about, that is really sort of ungovernable—not sort of, it’s been ungovernable for the Pakistani government. That’s where the bad guys are hiding. That’s where the al-Qaeda folks are, and some other malcontents.

     

    And so, what we’re doing is we’re in the process of working with the Pakistanis to help train up their counterinsurgency capability of their military, and we’re getting new agreements with them about how to deal with cross-border movements of these folks. So we’re making progress.

     

    BOB SCHIEFFER: Would you have notified them before any of these cross-border movements, because, as you well know, there is a fear that there would be leaks on something like that, and there might be a temptation not to? Exactly what is our policy on that?

     

    VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: I always try to be completely candid with you, but I can’t respond to that question. I’m not going to respond to that question.

    BOB SCHIEFFER: You’re not going to respond to that question.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Biden, being interviewed by Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. When we come back from break, we’ll speak with a Pakistani activist and scholar about the first military attack in the Obama administration, the unmanned drone attack in Pakistan. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: As US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, prepares to head to the region next week, I’m joined now here in the firehouse studio by Pakistani political scientist Sahar Shafqat.
Welcome to Democracy Now!

SAHAR SHAFQAT: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. What about this unmanned drone attack? Where did it happen? What about the denials, on both sides, of US-Pakistani cooperation?

SAHAR SHAFQAT: The attacks happened in FATA, which is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. It’s this no man’s land, literally, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, colonial-era sort of administrative region.

The denials, I think, are part of this drama that is sort of in mutually agreed-upon play that both the US and Pakistan are engaged in, which is the US is going to engage—carry out these drone attacks; the Pakistani government will deny that they had any knowledge and will express outrage for domestic consumption.

But they’re very deeply unpopular, and I should add that they have caused a humanitarian crisis within Pakistan. In Bajaur, for example, it’s estimated that about 300,000 people have fled the region, which is about half the population there. And it’s—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain where that region is.

SAHAR SHAFQAT: That is in part of FATA, which is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Bajaur is one of the agencies within that.

AMY GOODMAN: Right next to Afghanistan.

SAHAR SHAFQAT: Right next to Afghanistan, yes. It’s a series of about ten or eleven different agencies within this—what Vice President Biden called the no man’s land, this ungovernable land. It’s supposed to have autonomy. And this has been, as I said, a colonial-era legacy, which successive Pakistani governments have more or less respected. This, of course, changed dramatically after 9/11, when the Pakistani government was forced to intervene, because Taliban and al-Qaeda had fled there from Afghanistan, so—which was a radical change in policy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, right now, this latest attack, what do you know about it? We have learned so far that something like twenty-two people were killed, three of them children.

SAHAR SHAFQAT: I don’t know much more than that, much more than what you know. But I will also add that it’s disappointing, from my perspective, and I think from Pakistanis’ perspective, that the new administration, which clearly has recognized that there were terrible mistakes made in the Bush era that have to be now sort of corrected with policy changes, has refused to acknowledge that there were serious mistakes that have been made in the US policy towards Pakistan and has in fact made clearly a decision to continue US policy towards Pakistan.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of Richard Holbrooke, who’s headed to the region now?

SAHAR SHAFQAT: Richard Holbrooke, I think—I mean, there are many sort of reasons to object to his involvement, which, you know, sort of pertain to his past, but I do want to point out one additional thing, which is that he has been named the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Originally, he was supposed to be named envoy to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The Indian government lobbied very fiercely to have that designation removed, because they did not want to be lumped in with Afghanistan and Pakistan. And that, from my view, is unfortunate, because, you know, throughout, for example, Obama’s campaign, he noted that the solution to the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan must involve some kind of solution between India and Pakistan, as well, that India is part of this equation. And I agree with that. And so, it’s disappointing that the sort of official designation for Richard Holbrooke is not going to include India at all in this equation.

AMY GOODMAN: The level of support for President Obama before he became president and now?

SAHAR SHAFQAT: In Pakistan? He was definitely more popular before the attacks on Friday, a week ago. And, in fact, the prime minister of Pakistan had more or less guaranteed to the Pakistani public that when President Obama comes into office, these drone attacks are going to stop. So he has, of course, been extremely embarrassed by this action, and there have already been mass protests against US bombing. And I think a lot of disillusionment has set in, because there were hopes that there would be some kind of policy correction, policy change, and that appears to not be the case at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Sahar Shafqat, what about the attacks on Mumbai and the links to Pakistan?

SAHAR SHAFQAT: Well, you know, again, none of that investigation has been made public, so I can only speculate on who exactly was involved. But to the best of our knowledge, we—I think it’s safe to say that, somehow or the other, the Pakistani security establishment was involved, either indirectly or directly or even through sort of—in a way of having knowledge of it and letting it happen. And again, this—

AMY GOODMAN: What makes you say that?

SAHAR SHAFQAT: You know, the groups that have been alleged to be involved are creations of ISI, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliated social group, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. And just as an example of how the security establishment tends to patronize and help out these groups, when the Jamaat-ud-Dawa was declared by the United Nations as a terrorist organization, the government took a few days to sort of act, and when they eventually seized the assets of this group, they discovered, lo and behold, that all the money had been taken out of the accounts. I don’t think this was an accident. I think this was an opportunity given to this group to sort of, you know, clear out its money and regroup eventually. Unfortunately, the ISI and other security, you know, agencies in Pakistan have always worked against the interests of the people of Pakistan, and I think this is another instance in which they, again, either directly or indirectly have done that.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan, where it is now under Zardari, the husband of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto?

SAHAR SHAFQAT: The lawyers’ movement is the most hopeful development in Pakistan in the last, I would say, probably couple of decades. Unfortunately, the movement has been weakened since the civilian government took office almost a year ago. And I should note that the United States has remained sort of steadfastly against the restoration of the judiciary and especially of the chief justice. My hope is that now that we have a former constitutional expert as the new US president, that he will see the importance of maintaining the rule of law and of restoring the judiciary.

The latest announcement by the lawyers’ movement leadership is that there will be a long march on March 9th and that there will be a sit-in until the judiciary is restored, until the chief justice is restored. And most recently, one of the major opposition party leaders, Nawaz Sharif, announced that he is going to participate and support this long march fully.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Sahar Shafqat, Pakistani activist and scholar. She specializes in comparative politics, an associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.